United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
TERENCE C. KERN, United States District Judge.
a civil rights action. Before the Court is Defendants'
motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 37). Plaintiff John Lee
Johnson filed a response in opposition to the motion (Dkt.
40). For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants
1997, a jury convicted Johnson, in the District Court of
Tulsa County, No. CF-97-3991, of four counts of sexual
battery, two counts of rape by instrumentation, two counts of
forcible sodomy, and two counts of kidnapping. Dkt. 21-1, at
2. The trial court adopted the jury's sentencing
recommendations, imposed a 1, 000-year prison sentence for
each conviction, and ordered the sentences to be served
consecutively. Id.; Dkt. 11, at 2, 4. Johnson is
eligible to be considered for parole. Dkt. 40, at 14; Dkt.
37, at 8. Johnson receives monthly income from the Oklahoma
Department of Corrections (ODOC), either through work
assignments or incentive pay, and from “wages earned
through private employment.” Dkt. 40, at 15-16. In
accordance with Okla. Stat. tit. 57, § 549(A)(5) and
ODOC policy OP-120230(I)(A)(2), the ODOC deposits 20% of
Johnson's monthly income into a mandatory savings
account. Dkt. 21-2, at 3; Dkt. 37, at 3; Dkt. 40, at 14-16.
Funds from Johnson's savings account are payable to him
“upon normal discharge.” Dkt. 21-2, at 3; Okla.
Stat. tit. 57, § 549(A)(5). As amended in 2014, Okla.
Stat. tit. 57, § 549(A)(5) provides an exemption from
the mandatory-savings rule for inmates who are serving
sentences of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).
Dkt. 11, at 4; Dkt. 21-2, at 3; Dkt. 37, at 3.
commenced this action in July 2017, by filing a 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 civil rights complaint (Dkt. 1). He filed an
amended complaint (Dkt. 11) in November 2017. Johnson claims
Defendants' enforcement of Okla. Stat. tit. 57, §
549(A)(5) violates his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal
protection because the statute exempts inmates serving
sentences of LWOP from the mandatory-savings rule but does
not also exempt inmates like Johnson who are serving lengthy
term-of-years sentences and “have no realistic chance
for parole.” Dkt. 11, at 4-5. Johnson contends there is
“no logical or sensible justification for this
disparity.” Id. at 5.
filed a motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 37) on April 15,
2019. Johnson filed a timely response in opposition to the
motion (Dkt. 40) on May 24, 2019.
style their motion as one seeking summary judgment under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Dkt. 37. However, within the summary
judgment motion, Defendants also urge the Court to dismiss
Johnson's equal-protection claim. Id. at 4-6.
The Court rejects Defendants' arguments for dismissal,
but agrees with Defendants that they are entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.
seek dismissal of Johnson's equal-protection claim on two
grounds. First, they argue that the ODOC, as an arm of the
State, is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Dkt. 37,
at 4-5. Second, they argue that Heck v. Humphrey,
512 U.S. 477 (1994), bars Johnson's claim. Id.
at 5-6. Neither argument is persuasive.
Eleventh Amendment immunity
first question this Court's subject-matter jurisdiction
and contend that “all claims made by [Johnson] should
be dismissed in their entirety” because Johnson sued
the ODOC and the ODOC is an arm of the State protected by
Eleventh Amendment immunity. Dkt. 37, at 4-5. In asserting
Eleventh Amendment immunity, Defendants dispute Johnson's
contention that Ex parte Young, 323 U.S. 670 (1944),
permits Johnson to proceed with his claim. Id. at 5;
Dkt. 40, at 7-9. Specifically, Defendants argue that Ex
parte Young does not apply because Johnson did not sue
any state officials, other than Governor Fallin who was
previously dismissed as a defendant. Dkt. 37, at 5.
Eleventh Amendment generally bars “suits in federal
court against a state by its own citizens or by citizens of
another state.” Eastwood v. Dep't of
Corr., 845 F.2d 627, 631 (10th Cir. 1988); U.S. Const.
amend. XI. And, as an arm of the State, the ODOC is protected
by Eleventh Amendment immunity. Eastwood, 846 F.2d
at 631. But, for two reasons, the Court finds the Eleventh
Amendment does not bar Johnson's equal-protection claim.
First, Johnson did not sue the ODOC. Rather, in his amended
complaint, he sued Governor Mary Fallin and the ODOC's
Board of Corrections. Dkt. 11, at 1. By order filed January
16, 2018, the Court dismissed Governor Fallin as a defendant,
finding Johnson's claim against her was barred by the
Eleventh Amendment. Dkt. 13, at 4-8. In doing so, the Court
explained that, under Ex parte Young, the proper
defendant would be a state official with “some
connection” to enforcement of Okla. Stat. tit. 57,
§ 549(A)(5). Id. at 6-7 (quoting Ex parte
Young, 209 U.S. at 157). The Court found that the Board
has a duty to enforce that statute, concluded that Johnson
could proceed with his claim against the Board, and directed
Johnson to submit service documents. Dkt. 13, at 7-8. As
directed, Johnson submitted a summons and a U.S. Marshal
service form and, on both forms, he identified Michael Roach,
the Board's chairman, as the defendant to be served.
Dkts. 15, 16. Roach was served on February 15, 2018,
see Dkt. 16, and, on March 5, 2018, the Board's
former counsel, an Assistant Attorney General with the
Oklahoma Attorney General's Office, entered his
appearance as counsel “for Defendant: Michael
Roach.” Dkt. 17. That same day, the Assistant Attorney
General filed a motion requesting a stay, requesting an order
directing the ODOC to file a special report, and identifying
himself as Roach's attorney. Dkt. 18, at 3. Thus,
contrary to Defendants' position, Johnson brought his
suit for prospective injunctive relief against an appropriate
state official, see Dkt. 37, at 5, and Ex parte
Young applies. See Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. at
157; Muscogee (Creek) Nation v. Pruitt, 669 F.3d
1159, 1167 (10th Cir. 2012).
Johnson's failure to identify Roach as a defendant in his
amended complaint does not bar application of Ex parte
Young. Because Plaintiff appears pro se, the Court must
liberally construe his pleadings. Hall v. Bellmon,
935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (1991). And, “in a pro se case when
the plaintiff names the wrong defendant in the caption or
when the identity of the defendants is unclear from the
caption, courts may look to the body of the complaint to
determine who the intended and proper defendants are.”
Trackwell v. U.S. Gov't, 472 F.3d 1242, 1243-44
(10th Cir. 2007). Here, while Johnson did not specifically
name Michael Roach as a defendant in either the caption or
the body of his amended complaint, he did identify the Board
as a defendant and he made clear that he was seeking
prospective injunctive relief. Moreover, he corrected his
failure to name one or more specific members of the Board
when he submitted service documents identifying Roach as the
defendant. Given the procedural history of this case, the
Court finds it reasonable to construe Johnson's pro se
pleadings, along with the service documents, as Johnson's
attempt to bring his claim against a state official with
“some connection” to enforcement of the statute
he challenges. Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. at 157.
Furthermore, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure expressly
provide that “[m]isjoinder of parties is not a ground
for dismissing an action. On motion or on its own, the court
may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 21; see also Travelers Indem. Co. v. U.S. of
Am. for Use of Constr. Specialties Co., 382 F.2d 103,
105-06 (10th Cir. 1967) (discussing “amendments which
involve the adding of parties” and reasoning that the
purpose of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is not
“furthered by denying the addition of a party who has a
close identity of interest with the old party when the added
party will not be prejudiced”). Here, the Court finds
that Roach, who is sued in his official capacity as the
Board's chairman and who was served with a copy of ...